Contradictory Keller Conclusions

To impeach or not to impeach

Two former appeals court judges have offered lawmakers competing opinions on whether Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller should face impeachment. At issue is House Resolution 480, filed by Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, which calls on House lawmakers to investigate and impeach Keller and for the Senate to try her on the House charges that she impermissibly closed the courthouse doors at 5pm on Sept. 25, 2007, denying death row inmate Michael Richard the right to have his final appeal considered. Richard's appeal, based on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that day to consider whether lethal injection is constitutional, went unheard, and he was executed that night.

Former Houston Appeals Court Judge Michol O'Connor told the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee that Keller's behavior in the Richard case was "outrageous" and that she had cut short Richard's life by eight months. "This is a further embarrassment to the Texas criminal justice system," she said. "It is serious." But former CCA Judge Frank Maloney said lawmakers should not begin impeachment proceedings against Keller. There has been an "assumption" that Keller did wrong, he said, but there is yet no proof. Thinking that she did wrong is "the most ridiculous assumption you could think of," he told lawmakers. Richard's attorneys could have approached any judge on the court to accept the appeal and stay the execution, he said, because state statute allows attorneys to file for a stay with any of the nine justices. There was "no excuse for those lawyers not contacting an individual judge," he said – seeming to disregard any concern that for the defense attorneys to contact an individual judge about Richard's appeal would constitute an impermissible ex parte communication, without first notifying the attorney for the state.

Nonetheless, Maloney's defense of Keller – that she should be allowed to go through her hearing in August, to defend charges of incompetence brought by the State Com­mis­sion on Judicial Conduct – seemed to resonate with most lawmakers on the committee, who appeared, at best, skeptical about Burnam's resolution. (They noted, for example, that Keller hadn't broken any state statute – an excuse that didn't sit well with several witnesses. "This is an offense against the Constitution; this is a denial of due process," said attorney Broadus Spivey.)

Committee chair Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, left the resolution pending. Still, Burnam told lawmakers he will call on the full House to vote on the resolution, as a point of personal privilege, even if the measure doesn't make it out of committee. (For more on Keller's recent troubles with the law, see "Naked City.")

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Sharon Keller
The Case That Never Closes
The Case That Never Closes
SCJC seeks reconsideration of Keller ruling

Jordan Smith, Oct. 29, 2010

Keller Can Consider Herself Unwarned
Keller Can Consider Herself Unwarned
Curtain finally closes on Keller case

Jordan Smith, Oct. 15, 2010

More by Jordan Smith
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
Motoreum's Yusuf & Antonio talk about the biz and their reality TV debut

May 22, 2014

APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
Musical chairs at Downtown HQ

May 9, 2014

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Sharon Keller, Lon Burnam, Michael Richard, Michol O'Connor, Frank Maloney, State Commission on Judicial Conduct, 81st Legislature

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle